It was to the West, where the Sun God at the end of each day began his nocturnal journey through the underworld, that man also gained admittance to the hereafter. Life after death was a concept most deeply. rooted in the minds of the ancient Egyptians. Since the earliest times they had seen the passing of the mortal
body not as an end but as a beginning. Belief in the hereafter was the focal point of their outlook. It stimulated their thought, their moral principles and their art.
Man, as they saw him, comprised the body, the spirit (or Ba), and the Ka, a sort of guardian double which, though born at the same time, did not share death with him. After the passing of his mortal body man could live again through his Ka, provided that it was nourished and surrounded by all that was necessary for a continued existence. His Ba (spirit) ascended to higher spheres and could fly around the world and return to the tomb, provided that his body was properly preserved. Without the body, in fact, there could be no continued existence. So it can readily he seen that the repository for the dead and the manner in which they were to be interred were of the utmost importance.
Even in pre-dynastic times the dead, laid to rest in simple oval pits surmounted by a pile of rubble, were covered with a protective animal skin and surrounded by pots containing food and drink, a few primitive weapons and ornaments. Each slow development from these crude pit burials through the Mastaba development to the pyramid proper, and its ultimate abandonment in favor of rock-hewn tombs, was a battle to preserve the body. When a stone superstructure was placed atop a tomb in place of the rubble, this was because it was a stronger safeguard against the elements. When, in place of skin, linen cloth was used to swathe the body this was because it afforded better protection. When the tombs were made deeper , when a system of blocking entrance passages was devised, when funerary customs under went change, each stage was an advancement in the protection of the body to allow the deceased to live again, forever.
Mastabas, low rectangular bench-like brick structures were tombs. The earliest comprised a single burial chamber hewn deep in the ground , in which the deceased, placed in a wooden sarcophagus, lay surrounded by pottery jars filled with food, drink and ointments, and chests of weapons and jewelery. In the funerary room built in the super structure there was a false door through which the Ka could join the world of the living. In front of it was an offering table where relatives and friends could place food and drink to sustain the deceased in the hereafter.
Since tombs were regarded as the places where the deceased would dwell, they closely resembled contemporary houses both inside and out. Naturally, increased prosperity meant a better life and, since a man's good fortune led to an increased concern to take it all with him to the hereafter, the Mastaba underwent transformation. It became larger and more complex, constructed to fit each individual's special requirements. The sarcophagus, still laid in the central chamber of the substructure, stood on a platform.Other chambers were constructed for the funerary equipment . Abundant food and drink meant more sustenance for the body. Perfected furniture meant more eternal comfort. Ointments, weapons, games, clothing, all meant abetter afterlife. And since it was desirable to be surrounded by loved ones, chambers were sometimes constructed for the wife, sons and daughters of the deceased.
But larger tombs and richer funerary equipment led to increased risk of violation by robbers. It is somewhat ironical that, whereas mummification was to be perfected and art and architecture were to rise to a high degree of sophistication , no secure method of hindering the robber was ever found. During fifty centuries tombs were violated, their contents taken and the bodies exposed to the elements.
The burial chamber and adjoining rooms for the funerary equipment were originally constructed first and then, after the superstructure was raised, the deceased and his belongings were lowered through the roof of the Mstaba, down the pit and straight into the burial chamber. With bigger and more elaborate tombs, however, an easier means of entry had to be devised. Access was thenceforth made via a stair way from a point outside the superstructure and leading directly underground to the tomb chamber. It was hoped that robbers would be deterred by an elaborate system of blockings.
In many Mastabas dating from the latter part of the 4th Dynasty a special room was constructed in the super structure, separated by a wall from the other rooms. This was the statue house, now known on the hills south of the Valley of the Kings and built his mortuary temple in the valley. His successor, Thutmose I, followed his innovation of separating the burial chamber from the mortuary temple, being the first Pharaoh to construct his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His architect Ineni excavated it through solid rock across a precipitous valley, and recorded for posterity on a stele in his tomb that he carried out his Pharaoh's request 'no one seeing and no one hearing'. His mortuary temple was built at the edge of the verdant valley on the west bank of the Nile. Thus, he believed, could his cult be continued while his actual resting place was unknown.
This precedent was followed. The Pharaohs that succeeded Thutmose I in the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties continued to dig their tombs deep in the sterile valley which is now known as the Valley of the Kings. Royal consorts and children from the 19th Dynasty were buried at a separate site, the Valley of the Queens. Noble men had their tombs dug at various cemeteries among the foot hills of the range.
This is the Theban necropolis, the City of the Dead. It was not always as lifeless as we see it today. At one time beside each mortuary temple there were dwellings for the priests and stables for the sacrificial animals. Near by were the guard houses and granaries each with its superintendent . Surrounding or in front of each temple were lakes, groves and beautifully laid-out gardens.
A large community of laborers and craftsmen were engaged on the building, the decorating, the making of statue and sarcophagus, and,of course, on the very specialized job of preparing the deceased for the hereafter : mummification. The ruins of this community have been excavated near the temple of Der el Medina. Some 40,000 pieces of pottery and scraps of papyrus give fascinating revelations of the artists and artisans who lived there. The village comprised about eighty families, each possessing a small, uniform and sparely furnished house. They worked under a strict system of administration and the people were classified according to their work. The designers and scribes were considered superior to the artists, painters and draughtsmen. The quarrymen and.masons naturally came above the porters, digger sand mortar mixers . At the bottom of the scale were the watchmen and refreshment carriers. At the top, in charge of the whole community, were the Director of Works and the various foremen immediately under his control.
Attendance was strictly marked and an absent worker had to account for himself. The written excuses have survived the centuries. One had to visit "my mother-in-law", Another had to get urgent supplies from the market. Illness was a frequent excuse. The scandals, quarrels and complaints of the workers were all recorded. On one occasion a complaint reached the authorities that a chair, a box and a mirror were missing from the tomb of a worker. He described them in detail. A check was made. Now Egyptologists found these described items in the surrounding cliffs where the dead of the city were buried!
There were also complaints of a more serious nature, as for example the backlog of salaries which led to the famous Revolution of the 20th and the 21st Dynasties, written on papyri and recording that the authorities failed to give allowances to the people of the village for two months. Payment normally came regularly each month in the form of charcoal, dried meat, fish, bandages and cloth, along with materials for their work. When the caravan failed to turn up the villagers staged a revolt and attempted to send representatives in protest to Thebes. They were stopped from crossing the river. However, they did finally send the Admin of the village to speak on their behalf and were consequently promised their salaries within a week.
The men of the village were all skilled workers. Those that toiled in the Valley of the Kings for ten day stretches slept in makeshift shelters in a mountain pass above the village until their term of work was over. On their return they had ample time to enjoy sculpting at leisure, making jewelery, household objects and statues of their own guardian deity, Hathor , to whom they built a small shrine. One village resident, Kha, a draughts man who rose to the position of architect, placed in his tomb a selection of furniture which appears unused. It is doubtful whether he actually enjoyed these luxuries in his home. They were evidently placed In his tomb that they might ensure him a better afterlife. It is strange to note that nowhere on the Theban necropolis have the ruins of a mummification center yet been found.
The Necropolis Mortuary Temples:
As we have seen, the reigning Pharaoh was the embodiment of the Sun God and the God of the Imperial Age, When he died and Amon cast his protective shield over his successor, the cult of the deceased Pharaoh was continued in his mortuary temple, which was also dedicated to Amon.
The largest of these temples, that of Amenhotep III, is no more; all the remain are the twin statues known as the Colossi of Memon seated in solitary isolation in the plain. The mortuary temple of Seti I at Kurna contains someof the most exquisite relief work on the Theban necropolis. The most beautiful, Queen Hatshepsut's at Der el Bahri, lies slightly in land from the semi-circle along the valley's edge. The Ramasseum of Ramses II is a page in history, and Medinet Habu, the name given to a group of buildings begun in the 18th Dynasty and continuing to Roman times, includes a splendid temple built by Ramses III on the same pattern as the Ramasseum.